The Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) represents 95 of the premier academic and free-standing cancer research centers in the United States. AACI is dedicated to aiding its members' shared mission to eradicate cancer. AACI provides a unified voice for cancer center directors to educate policy leaders and the public about the importance of cancer centers and the role they play in reducing the cancer burden in their communities. AACI also sponsors initiatives that facilitate direct interaction and information transfer among the cancer centers.
In 1999 AACI established a permanent staff and headquarters in Pittsburgh. Prior to this time, AACI was largely comprised of a small group of cancer center directors who gathered on an annual basis to discuss national policy as well as challenges at their own centers. The group first met in 1958 in New York City and organized itself as the Association of Cancer Institute Directors (ACID). While the history of these informal meetings is incomplete, a significant catalyst for greater cooperation among cancer centers came with passage of the National Cancer Act in 1971. ACID changed its name to the Association of American Cancer Institutes in 1973.
Advancing the Interests of Cancer Centers
Over the past decade, AACI’s reach and impact have expanded significantly. For example, we counted 77 member institutions in 2000. We now have 95. Similarly, our annual meeting attendance has grown from 86 in 2000 to more than 250 attendees in 2010.
As AACI has evolved, greater opportunities have emerged for fulfilling its mission, including educating members of Congress about cancer research needs, forming alliances with like-minded organizations, or bringing together cancer center leaders for face-to-face problem solving.
AACI also provides an interface with major funders of cancer research in the United States, advocating on behalf of the work of the centers, particularly with the U.S. Congress and government agencies such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). AACI brings the needs of the cancer centers and patients with cancer to the attention of major underwriters of patient care in the U.S. Among our public policy efforts, AACI worked for many years with legislators and other members of the U.S. cancer community to raise awareness of the need for broader patient access to clinical trials. Last year, largely as a result of those efforts, a provision requiring health insurers to provide coverage for routine costs associated with participation in clinical trials was signed into law by President Obama as part of the health care reform bill.
Recent Initiatives and Programs
Clinical Research Initiative
AACI’s Clinical Research Initiative (AACI CRI) provides a focused forum for sharing information and examining best practices that promote the efficient operation of cancer center clinical research facilities. It also leverages the influence of the AACI cancer center network to advocate for improvement in the national clinical trials enterprise.
Key to the initiative’s success is the development of tools and methods for sharing information across the AACI network, and the dissemination of best practices that lead to increased access to new cancer therapies. One direct way of sharing information is through face-to-face discussion. This is accomplished in part at AACI CRI’s annual meetings, which are proving to be very popular among our members-100 clinical trial leaders from 50 cancer centers attended AACI CRI’s second annual membership meeting in July in Chicago. The meeting featured a number of guest speakers addressing issues of interest to the cancer clinical trials community. A panel discussion on academic and industry relations underlined the need to continue the dialogue between industry partners and cancer centers to enhance relationships and promote drug development.
Developing tools and addressing clinical trials obstacles is accomplished in large part through the work of seven AACI CRI Special Interest Groups: The National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Clinical Trials Reporting Program; Trial Metrics; Business Integration and Administration; Academic, Industry and Government Relationships; Regulatory and Pre‐activation Processes; Managing Networks and Subsites; and, Training, Quality Assurance and Monitoring.
These groups convene cancer researchers and other cancer center staff around specific topics. For example, the Trial Metrics special interest group focuses on illuminating roles, responsibilities and incentives in the management of clinical trial staff, operations and principal investigators. Of particular concern are trials that contribute little to overall enrollment yet consume significant resources. To limit such misapplication of resources, effective rules governing protocol selection are needed. These rules will permit centers to re‐direct resources without causing a significant negative impact on overall enrollment.
Project Cancer Education
Project Cancer Education (PCE) gives elected officials and other community leaders an opportunity to learn about the intricate process of translating medical research into promising new treatments for cancer. The PCE program immerses participants in the lives of clinicians, researchers and cancer patients. Instead of simply inviting opinion leaders to tour a cancer research institution, this unique, “day-in-the-life” role-playing experience gives participants a realistic depiction of a cancer patient’s journey from diagnosis through survivorship.
PCE was developed at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute to highlight the need for robust public investment in our nation’s cancer centers.
Oncology Workforce Initiative
To help address a projected sharp increase in demand for cancer care, and the attendant burdens that the greater demand will place on cancer care providers, AACI launched an Oncology Workforce Initiative in 2008. An early step in the initiative involved a partnership with the Association of American Medical Colleges to sound out a representative group of cancer center leaders on their workforce concerns.
AACI’s oncology workforce efforts are linked in part to its membership in the Institute of Medicine’s National Cancer Policy Forum (NCPF). AACI participated in a NCPF workshop that resulted in the publication of, “Ensuring Quality Cancer Care through the Oncology Workforce: Sustaining Care in the 21st Century”. AACI has also partnered with C-Change, an AACI Sustaining Member, participating in a cancer workforce development forum as well as in discussions for the launch of the organization’s collaborative efforts for sustaining the cancer workforce.
In 2010, AACI compiled and disseminated a report describing 21 member centers’ efforts to enhance oncology workforce training, recruitment and retention, as well as related areas of activity such as new models of care, research support, and policy.
AACI will offer four Translational Cancer Research Fellowships in 2012. Each one-year $50,000 grant, will help to insure that qualified applicants receive research training and experience under the guidance of highly trained, well-respected researchers who have demonstrated success in their research field. The fellowship will assist the trainee in becoming a high-caliber, productive, independent researcher with an enduring focus on the importance of translational research in relation to cancer.
Over the years AACI has facilitated mentorship of so-called “emerging centers”—those seeking NCI designation, and the additional funding attached to it--by the more established centers. Over the past decade a number of centers have gained NCI designation for their scientific excellence, including the Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center, The Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Dallas, Texas, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, and the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center.